A recent study from the University of Eastern Finland suggests that equine-facilitated therapy (EFT) may be beneficial for patients with chronic low back pain. The perceived intensity of pain decreased throughout the course of a 12-week session, while EFT participants’ capacity for everyday functioning increased. In Veterinary Science: Frontiers, the findings were released.
The purpose of the study was to assess how EFT affected perceived physical performance, pain level, pain acceptance, depressive and phobic symptoms, and quality of life. The study, which was carried out in Finland, included a total of 22 men and women who had low back discomfort.
The 12-week trial demonstrated that EFT may be utilized to help people perform better on a daily basis.
In the areas of sleep, reaching and bending forward, and standing for a long time, statistically significant improvement was seen.
It was also possible to decrease patients’ reported pain, increase their engagement in social activities, and enhance their psychological well-being by progressively increasing the exercise load. Only two of the chronic pain patients visited the clinic again for pain during a six-month follow-up.
Patients emphasized the perceived physical, psychological, and social effects of EFT in the follow-up interviews, demonstrating that the intervention had a significant impact on their rehabilitation. For mental health, statistically significant quantitative improvement was seen: patients’ social functioning and levels of depression increased during the intervention; this was also mentioned in the interviews: “The formed group effect was a nice experience.”
“Chronic back pain is a multidimensional experience involving not only physical pain but also learned thinking patterns and emotional reactions. Traditionally, physical therapy has been recommended for the rehabilitation of patients with chronic pain, as physical exercise has been found to be the most effective way to treat spinal pain. Hippocrates already recommended using equine movement as a form of physical and psychological rehabilitation for people, but the exact reason behind the rehabilitative effect has remained unknown thus far,” says Doctoral Researcher Sanna Mattila-Rautiainen of the University of Eastern Finland.
Equine-facilitated therapy brought relief to patients with chronic pain who had been incapable of work for several years.
“Patients with chronic pain tend to avoid the sensation of pain that comes from moving the affected part of their body. However, when sitting on a moving horse, a person with low back pain will end up moving to the gait of the horse, which encourages the right kind of lumbar movement,” Mattila-Rautiainen says.
In the intervention, sitting on a horse to 100 walk-like movements per minute was found beneficial:
“The movement felt good—the horse moved me correctly.”
“There is no other way to exercise like this.”
Inappropriate mobility keeps people in a cycle of discomfort and has an impact on their physical, psychological, and social wellbeing. The patient’s ability to move with the horse’s movements as well as the right exercise load were crucial factors in the solution. The amount of exercise gradually increased, within the discomfort threshold. Patients’ views on their choice of horse and equipment were also taken into consideration.
The Social Insurance Institution of Finland has been funding equine-facilitated therapy as a type of medical rehabilitation since 2019. Yet, equine-facilitated therapy is less well-established when it comes to the rehabilitation of musculoskeletal problems. Mattila-Rautiainen has more than 20 years of expertise using EFT to treat back pain sufferers, working closely with local social welfare and healthcare organizations in the Kainuu region, Finland.
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